“Oh!” I chirped as Chef smacked my hand with the back of a wooden spoon. “I don’t think you are supposed to do that.” I scold, rubbing the smacked spot.
“There is no other way to get your hand out of that batter.” She said, not looking at me.
“I just want a taste.”
“These lemon bars are for Mr. Brown and you are not getting any.”
“He always was your favorite.” I said with a sniff, pocketing a rum ball as Moufette and I saunter out of the kitchen.
Pausing a moment in the hallway, I take a big breath in to smell the evergreen scent that wafts throughout the corridors. The Chateau has been buffed and polished to the state of an enlisted man’s dress uniform and is proudly showing off all her Yuletide finery.
I am giddy with excitement.
Christmas is only a day away and the rooms are humming with festive joy: cards affirming loving wishes from friends and relations spill out from the bowl meant to contain them, bows and ribbons are wrapped around garlands sprinkled with berries and candied fruit and candles burn in every window (Mr. Brown insisted I hire extra help to keep the Chateau from burning down.)
“Mrs. de Plume!” Mrs. Walters shouts sternly from the grand salon. She must have found Albert. I enter the room pertly.
“Ma’am, Christmas is a time for ALL family. Mr. Grieg may not have been the most pleasant individual at times, but he is to stay out of the coal bin!”
She shakes the dust from the tiny portrait and places it on the Tribute Table between Thomas and Rémy. All my darlings are there – Mother, my sisters, Father (who always sits as close to the edge as he can get.) Great Aunt Margot peers out, looking so stately wearing the Sophie. I give my daily wink to them both before I look around for Mrs. Walters so I may stick my tongue out at Albert; let Santa see, he understands. Moufette yips from in front of the enormous tree standing at the head of the room, illuminating every surface and corner; glints of color spike off the glass ornaments that dangle from each lush branch, giving the illusion of the tree dancing when lit. Oh, does the sight of a Christmas tree ever stop dazzling? I swear as I stand before it, I am seven years old once again. Under the tree sits a magnificent display of brightly wrapped gifts both from my darlings and for them. Each package promising some new treasure selected solely with its recipient in mind. With a few moments before Chef will allow me in the kitchen again, I give some of the boxes a quick rattle to suss out their contents. I think Persephone has gotten me a silk scarf and I wonder how she intends to tie it.
“Mrs. de Plume!” Mrs. Walters repeats from the study; she doesn’t seem to like what I have done with the pillows there. I quicken my pace to the study’s doorway, knowing she has eagerly begun placing them back in their places. Under the large gold thread-embroidered pillow she finds the tube of imported lavender hand lotion she favors and I can sense her smile even looking at her back. She pockets the lotion and shakes her head and I wonder if the new hat pin hidden in the mess of wrapping paper I left in the library’s floor will be enough, she positively hates spent bits of ribbon laying about.
The bell at the door rings. I hide behind the grandfather clock, not wanting the postal carrier to see me; I am still a bit embarrassed about the incident the other day when I excitedly burst from the house to give him some bourbon truffles Chef made to distribute as gifts; it took us over an hour to collect all the scattered mail.
“Pardonez-moi, Madame?” Clarice says coming up behind me. Her arms barely contain the several blooms of snowy hydrangeas, creamy peonies, crimson tulips, cardinal roses and dripping wisteria; my florist has outdone herself once again and I squeal with excitement every time she delivers. I inhale their delicious fragrance, “Let’s have a huge arrangement on the dining room table; so big we’ll have to lay our heads on the table to speak to each other. Use the largest vase we have.” Clarice nods and gingerly negotiates all the blooms as she teeters off to the dining room. As she is about to enter, the Entitled Alley Cat begins to circle her ankles; emitting a purr so loud I can hear it even from my distance.
“Vas-t-en! Non, mauvaise chat!” She is anchored in place for if she were to take a step, she risks toppling over and showering the room with flowers; that feline is even more naughty than I am.
“Mrs. de Plume!”
Or perhaps not.
Just as I make to see how Mrs. Walter fancies her new purse buried behind a pile hats emptied from the wardrobe, the sight of the Chateau’s festal attire catches me once again. My ancient bones shiver as I drink in the majesty of it all. Tears rim my bottom lids and an involuntary smile stretches my lips as far as they will go: oh, but I do adore Christmas.
Mr. Brown appears at my side, “It never tires, does it?” he asks.
I shake my head and place a hand on my heart. Mr. Brown produces one of Chef’s famous Lemon bars, handing it to me, “Merry Christmas, Madame de Plume.”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Brown.”
I lift Moufette who snuggles softly into my arms. Clarice hums happily from the dining room. In the distance, Chef and her crew produce tinny clinks of whisks on bowls and the wet slaps of various doughs being kneaded. Even the Entitled Alley Cat has leapt to the receiving table to join in. We remain quiet, allowing the moment to linger.
“MRS. DE PLUME!”
Well, she was going to have to work for that stole.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a fabulous night, my darlings.